Image Credit: Michael Buckner/Getty ImagesAnd so Coachella is over for another year. It ended with, for my money, the festival’s finest day. Sunday was densely packed with can’t-miss acts, culminating in the one-two-three punch of the reunited Pavement, Thom Yorke with Atoms for Peace, and headliners Gorillaz. Read about all those shows plus several more after the jump.
The first band I saw on Coachella’s last day was L.A.’s Local Natives, who played the largest side tent at 2:10. The sun was coming down bright and scorching in the desert, but the sizeable crowd spilling out of the tent didn’t seem to mind too badly. Local Natives only released their debut, Gorilla Manor, in this country in February, but judging by the cheers each new song drew, it’s already got plenty of fans. Heads thrown back, arms in the air, the audience danced joyfully to the band’s warm harmonies and driving rhythms. They could almost have been at another festival 40 years earlier and a coast away.
As I approached the main stage next, I met with a sea of upraised middle fingers. Disgruntled Muse fans feeling salty about Saturday night’s post? No, just B.o.B fans complying with the Atlanta rapper’s instructions to flip off the omnipresent enemies addressed in his “Haterz Everywhere.” Deep bass rumbled through the field. “I just feel separated from you,” B.o.B said before climbing down toward the crowd to sing his jubilant hook from T.I.’s “Top of the World”: “I used to dream, oh, oh, about the money and the cars and girls/But now I sing, oh, oh, because I’m sitting on top of the world.” And with the second-biggest single in the country for weeks on end, he is, isn’t he? Soon B.o.B picked up a guitar to show off his rock chops. He’s a decent axeman, but only a couple of songs from this part of his set (“Don’t Let Me Fall,” “Satellite”) were at all memorable. At last he played that aforementioned No. 2 smash, “Nothin’ on You.” The crowd crooned along with his sweet-natured lyrics, a reminder of the pop platform that this unusual new star now has.
Image Credit: Karl Walter/Getty Images“Enjoy the rest of your day,” singer/guitarist Bradford Cox (pictured) deadpanned when Deerhunter encountered soundcheck issues over on the second stage. He and the rest of the band left, only to return a few minutes later and deliver a knock-out of a set despite intermittent technical difficulties. Cox’s spontaneity helped save the show more than once. When guitarist Lockett Pundt’s instrument couldn’t be heard properly, the frontman improvised a pretty good new Deerhunter song featuring the chorus “Coachella 2010” and off-color lyrics about unintended pregnancy over chords that recalled “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.” Shortly thereafter came “Never Stops,” from 2008’s masterful Microcastle. Reaching the line “Winter in my heart, it never stops,” Cox threw in, “not even when it’s 100 degrees outside.” Later, “Nothing Ever Happened” went whiplash-fast from pummeling bass riff to an extended Krautrock guitar outro — no jokes there, just an epic performance of an awesome tune. Before Deerhunter’s final number, Cox told a story about cover songs and Echo & the Bunnymen’s Friday night set, which brought him in a roundabout way to an announcement: “This is our song, but we’re going to end it with a medley of Karlheinz Stockhausen‘s entire discography. Are you into it?” I would have been, actually, but of course Cox was just pulling our legs again.
Image Credit: Charley Gallay/Getty ImagesCharlotte Gainsbourg seemed slightly unsure of herself when she walked on stage at the first side tent later in the afternoon. This was, she explained, not only her first Coachella, but her “first tour, first everything.” Not to worry: The Antichrist star’s nervous smiles only made the crowd love her more, and she grew confident as she kept playing tunes from last year’s strong IRM. Her five-piece backing band looked chicly bookish and sounded Beck-ish, as in IRM‘s producer. (Despite festival chatter suggesting a possible cameo to come, Beck was sadly not on hand.) With their help Gainsbourg moved comfortably from jangly folk-rock to filigreed chamber-pop to strutting funk. She even did a sexy cover of “L’Hotel Particulier,” from her brilliant father Serge Gainsbourg’s Histoire de Melody Nelson. All in all, très charmant.
I had just a few minutes to see Spoon banging gloriously away on the main stage — “I Turn My Camera On,” “Don’t Make Me a Target,” “Writing in Reverse,” and “Who Makes Your Money,” the latter with Bradford Cox and a member of White Rabbits sitting in — before a scheduling dilemma presented itself. Both Phoenix and Sly Stone were set to play around 7 P.M. I opted to check out Sly in the first side tent. How often does one get the chance to see that troubled, reclusive genius perform? Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be. “The Sly Stone set has been postponed to a little bit later,” a man announced at 7. “A little” became a lot, and the funk architect didn’t show up until about four hours after his originally announced set time. By that point I was already far away at Gorillaz’ headlining set with a weak cell phone signal and so no way of knowing Stone had finally made it to Coachella. That might have been for the best: By all accounts, he gave a brief and embarrassing performance.
Back at 7 P.M., with Stone indefinitely delayed, I made it to the second stage for part of Phoenix‘s set after all. The French rockers sounded exactly like they do on their albums, which is to say they sounded fantastic. “Lisztomania,” “Long Distance Call,” and “Lasso” provided three clean hits of euphoria. I’d have liked to stay for more, but a more pressing engagement called me away. Both Spoon and Phoenix are bands I greatly enjoy, so it’s a testament to the phenomenal lineup that Coachella booked for Sunday that I had to skip much of their sets.
Image Credit: Karl Walter/Getty ImagesThe high-priority duty that sent me elsewhere was securing a good spot for Pavement. I would have settled for anywhere with good sight lines, but the area facing the main stage was so empty when I headed over that I wound up a mere three or four rows back from the place where the reunited indie icons worked their magic. And magic it was. A certain air of ambivalence has hung around the interviews Stephen Malkmus (pictured) has given about this reunion, but nothing of the sort was visible at Coachella. These guys were the same five smirking pals we remembered — or, in my case, imagined, since Pavement had already broken up in a cloud of acrimony by the time I became a fan. “It’s been a while,” Malkmus greeted the crowd upon arrival. “Hola.” His bangs flew wildly in front of his eyes as they launched into set opener “Silence Kit,” and he kicked the air to punctuate his chord changes. (Check out the unreal set list that followed at the bottom of this post.) Bob Nastanovich shouted, shook a tambourine, and blew a slide whistle, though not all on one song. Malkmus and Scott “Spiral Stairs” Kannberg shredded on guitar and ribbed one another. Everyone looked like they were enjoying the living daylights out of being on stage together again. “We’re Pavement, back from the dead,” Kannberg remarked after “Range Life.” Thank heaven for that miracle.
Image Credit: Tim Mosenfelder/Getty ImagesThe last “oo-oo-ooh-oo-oo-ooh” of Pavement’s “Cut Your Hair” was still echoing in my ears as I hustled toward the second stage to see Thom Yorke and Atoms for Peace (pictured). “My name is Thom,” the Radiohead moonlighter announced after his new band opened with “The Eraser.” “I’m going to play every song off a record called The Eraser.” So they did. I’ve already written at length about the show I saw this quintet play a couple of weeks ago, and everything I said then goes double for their Coachella set. “Harrowdown Hill,” “Skip Divided,” “Atoms for Peace” (dedicated to Pavement), and all the rest were irresistible, anchored by Flea’s epic low end and Yorke’s obvious delight at their new arrangements. With no other major acts playing, the field became a dance party seemingly tens of thousands strong. I never before imagined “Cymbal Rush” as the type of song that people do running handstands to. After finishing The Eraser‘s nine tracks, the band took a brief break and Yorke returned alone for an acoustic run. First was “Give Up the Ghost,” a wonderfully plaintive new song, debuted in the U.K. this February, in which Yorke sang over his own looped vocals. He then did stripped-down versions of two Radiohead tunes — “Airbag,” a real treat, ghostly and gorgeous with just Yorke and his guitar, and “Everything in its Right Place” on piano. The rest of Atoms for Peace joined him for the same excellent encore I saw in New York. “This is one to freak out to,” Yorke said as he introduced “The Hollow Earth.” “You’ve had a long weekend, and you need to freak out.” True indeed.
As Atoms for Peace finished with “Feeling Pulled Apart By Horses,” there was a mass rush away toward the main stage, where Snoop Dogg stared down from the big screens. A recorded Snoop Dogg, that is. It was time for Gorillaz‘ headlining set, and the imposing video of Snoop’s contribution to the primates’ new Plastic Beach was just the beginning of the wonders in store. Huge illuminated letters spelling GORILLAZ ran across the stage, where Damon Albarn led a gaggle of backing band members in nautical outfits. Above and to either side of them, a cartoon phantasmagoria was projected to accompany the unfailingly catchy selections from Plastic Beach and 2005’s Demon Days: mountains of trash, undersea adventures, incandescent weaponry, and all manner of other trippy sights courtesy of Gorillaz’ visual mastermind Jamie Hewlett. And while Snoop Dogg’s appearance was canned, the guest appearances from Bobby Womack, De La Soul, the Clash’s Mick Jones and Paul Simonon, and more were all real. Not that Albarn really needed any help commanding attention. He sang with real soul and exhibited boundless energy, even jogging back and forth while carrying an actual, very large white flag during “White Flag.” This, ladies and gentlemen, was pop spectacle done right.
And that was a wrap. Did any of you attend Coachella day three? What were your favorite acts? Share your festival memories in the comments below.
Pavement set list
“In the Mouth a Desert”
“Father to a Sister of Thought”
“Date With Ikea”
“Fight This Generation”
“Starlings of the Slipstream”
“Summer Babe (Winter Version)”
“Cut Your Hair”